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‘ If you grumble they see you as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise trouble

One-man faiths armed with loudspeakers proliferate in Ghanas fast-growing capital. But as the city gets noisier, occupants are fighting back

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will ingest you ,” wails Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major road intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He preaches for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers enlarging his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and blessings, some tossing their coin presents from moving cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious sermons. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 faiths per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on public transport, in bus terminals or at street intersections, is commonplace.

The population of Greater Accra was about 4 million in 2010, but the city’s rapid growth means that number is expected to reach nearly 10 million by 2037. And as the population increases and the city gets noisier, residents are becoming more willing to fight back- developing in a rise in noise complaints.

Sarfo has been preaching at this intersection with his speaker system for the past four years. He says he used to be a lot louder but lowered his levels after beings complained. He guesses those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who laids up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the gospel. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Not everybody will like what we are doing here- not all know Christ ,” he says.” That is why we are here .”

While he considers his roadside preaching a church, he says he eventually wants to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of noise grievances are about faiths. Governments and tenants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small, independent evangelical religions with no organisational structure- as the most important one delinquents. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on porches. And despite their small-time gatherings, they often use loudspeakers and musical instruments during worship.

Noise annoys

For Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation unit at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, dealing with noise grumbles is taking over her daily work in her tiny, concrete place in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single epoch somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her suppose, about 65% of her hour is spent dealing with noise ailments. Most routinely the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate where possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such subject involves a church that had apparently been set up inside a family home in a new development on the city’s outskirts.

The pastor says his church was simply a companionship of his family members and labels neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his belief. Lambert Kwara, lawyer for the local forum, says there has been an increase in noise complaint occasions over the past six years. On the day he debates this particular complaint, he has two others to prosecute.

Gbana is often on the frontline in these cases. She says things can quickly turn ugly when she helps notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The religion has invested in new equipment and accommodated its interior design to reduce noise levels. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will revile ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In additive, “its not” unexpected for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss cases from well-connected parties in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must prevail- although she acknowledges that organizations need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the interference comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by directors in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local capacity vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the district of noise in Accra is a public health concern, affecting issues ranging from increased stress heights to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She acquires beings are unaware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put over grumbling because of fears it will affect their honour or standing in the community.

” You may end up being branded as having an evil influence ,” Yirenya-Tawiah says.

Being tagged as evil or a voodoo or wizard can be a serious insult, says Dr Cyril Fayose, general secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana.” Witchcraft accusations are very serious matters in Africa ,” he says,” and sometimes if you are seen as doing witchcraft you can even prosecuted and punished by civilization .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials established a taskforce to combat to Accra’s increasing noise levels, focused on education and enforcement.

Gifty
Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation unit at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, Accra. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” People have become very interested and was mindful of the chance that racket constitutes, so now the complaints are coming ,” says John Tettey, a taskforce member and head of the education department at the EPA.

Samuel Teye Doku was at the August taskforce meeting representing independent churches. He personally sees religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t form excessive noise.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t pay us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some churches taking preemptive appraises, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in brand-new paraphernalium and accommodated its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the flock had complained about too-loud business, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good voice ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of time and struggle due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable sting and torment” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded shatterings in a high court ruling against two noisy neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling laid down by a story of complaints, notes, joins and neglected territory courtroom war, as well as a insolent re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church belongings to allow it to continue to hold works despite the complaints.

The ruling felt both religions in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless disregard” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet pleasure of their properties “.

‘My anxiety is my baby will have a hearing problem’

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from adopting through on his complaints to local authorities- about a clergyman who appears intent on retaining on with his sermon regardless of the complaints.

The noise represents Isaac feel like a bad father-god and partner, he says in the front room of the small one-bedroom flat he leases in their own families house in Madina.

When he moved in, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the small prayer service held by his neighbour. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has also begun to comprising very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the evenings together with 10 worshippers.

Isaac simply began to complain when his son was born in early 2018.

” My anxiety is that my babe will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you deplore they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he “ve been given” grumbling, feeling his concern was being legislated between local and national bureaux. With his tenancy lease ending in April, he and his family are counting down the weeks until they move out.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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